Monday, April 14, 2014

Goths of the Now

A little bit different than usual, this entry includes two lovely women who may or may not consider themselves "goth". Both are members of the band Jaggery, which is one of my musical obsessions lately, and I'll include a music video as well (though the video was made before Rachel joined the band).

Left - Rachel Jayson of Jaggery and Walter Sickert and the ARmy of BRoken TOys
Right - Singer Mali (Mali Sastri) of Jaggery

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Creating Random Characters In GURPS

I really don't want to have to carefully design all of the characters in the dynastic game, but GURPS has no random generation method. So, I have to come up with something myself. I'll start by noting that there is just no way to get away from design completely, but I can subsume that into roleplaying to some extent.

The first thing to do is to figure out stats. GURPS has a really narrow range, actually, even though nominally normal humans range from around 7 to about 20. In actuality, a 7 is very unlikely, representing just about the minimum that one can call "able-bodied" (below that represents various bodily deficiencies and handicaps), and a 20 represents just about the human maximum, showing up in perhaps one person, or at most a very few, in the world each generation. For my purposes, I'll figure that it is less than one in a million and leave it at that.

Since I want the stats to cluster very tightly around 10-11, I've decided to start by rolling 3 averaging dice. These are six-sided dice marked 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5. Obviously, the average roll is much more likely with such dice, and the extremes are narrower than with regular six-sided dice marked 1 through 6. To shore up the low results and bring them closer to the range that is appropriate, I will halve the difference between 10 and the result if it is below 10. So, a roll of 6 becomes 8 (4 points lower than 10, halved, makes it 2 points lower than 10, or 8), a roll of 7 or 8 becomes 9, and a roll of 9 becomes 10. I will allow a result of 6 on the dice to explode downward, rolling a regular d6 and reducing the result by 1 on a roll of 6, then rolling again, stopping when the d6 reads 1-5. I will similarly allow a roll to explode upward on a result of 15, increasing it by 1 point on a roll of 6 on a d6 explosively. This makes a result of 20 occur less than once in 1.5 million.

For advantages and disadvantages, other than ones that are related to the character's social position (which are set by the scenario), I have come up with a program that goes through the list of possible advantages and disadvantages and checks the chance of any given member of the population possessing them. It then outputs the results to a file which I can incorporate into my character sheet. It's still a little buggy, but I should have it running smoothly soon. I do, however, reserve the right to reject any result and roll again, so that there will be no characters who have all of the advantages or all of the disadvantages, or whatever else doesn't fit the scenario in my opinion. I still need to work up a set of perks and quirks to randomly select, though perks are pretty closely tied to character concept and so not very easily left to random chance. I'll probably give 1 character in three 1 or 2 randomly chosen perks. I'm also considering rewriting the disadvantages portion to select mental disadvantages based on rolls from Gary Gygax's personality tables in the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide. I might also adapt the Hârnmaster "Medical" and "Psyche" charts to this program. Those would not be difficult, actually.

Once those are done, I will select a base template for each character, in order to quickly select some baseline skills. This is where I begin roleplaying the characters, choosing a template based on my assessment of what the character would want, what they are allowed to do given their social position, and so forth. I'll give them a number of skill points based on their age and personality (characters who have disadvantages that cause them to spend time doing other things lose out on skill points - though they might simply redirect some of the skill points instead, such as a lecherous character practicing Sex Appeal through self-study). To an extent, I will free-form this, though the guideline of 200 hours of instruction per 1 character point, doubling the time for self-study and halving it for intensive training, will apply (plus, one quarter of time spent at a job counts as study time for appropriate skills). Advantages appropriate to the template might also be acquired in the same way.

This does mean that I will still be spending a certain amount of time on each character, but at least it will be automated to some degree. I really wish that GURPS had chosen to work up a random character generation system, though. It would have saved me a lot of time and effort.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Top 10 Gaming Products

Over at Dyvers's blog, he's asking for lists of our Top 10 favorite gaming items of all time. To simplify things, I limited this to RPG items for my list. Anyway, here goes…

10) The Arcanum, Second Edition.

This is probably the best Old School set of published variant rules for D&D. It is well thought-out, addresses many of the problems perceived in D&D at the time, and keeps the things that make the game simple and quick, such as character classes and advancement through collecting treasure and defeating foes. It does include options for the more problematic things that would later get incorporated, such as experience bonuses for "role-playing" (without bothering to define that), but not many. Finally, it includes a simple skill system, armor that reduces damage, spells that aren't forgotten (but are limited in number of castings per magic user per day), and other simple, obvious fixes that would eventually become nearly standard in gaming. Ahead of its time, while still retaining the best of the origins, this remains one of the best rules systems in general.

9) ACKS.

Working from the basis of B/X D&D, which is considered by many to be the best published version of that game, and adding some of the most-requested elements of modern gaming (such as personalizing character class abilities through "feats", which is really a systematization of the "kits" of 2E AD&D), this game didn't stop there. It then went through, rationalized the economy implied in the game, and worked out the details of running domains in the modes of each of the various classes. Though it had been done before, it hadn't been done so well. Unlike Birthright, the domain system is completely integrated into the rules. Unlike BECMI/Cyclopedia D&D, it is easy to run and includes the special milieus of classes such as thieves and so on.

8) Lords of Creation.

Tom Moldvay was given free rein when Avalon Hill was making a desperate attempt to remain relevant in a market increasingly moving toward roleplaying games, and he came up with this. In what may be the most gonzo setting ever, the whole of reality and alternate realities is opened up to play. The player-characters are given maximum freedom for advancement, hoping to eventually be able to achieve the status of Lord of Creation and create their own settings, alternate worlds, and so on. Along the way, they might learn magical powers, acquire cybernetic enhancements, fight dragons or robot soldiers, even travel into the poetry of William Blake. Seriously, one of the alternate world settings is derived from the poetry of William Blake. There is nothing cooler than that in gaming. Since the very next session could take players into the Nine Worlds of Norse mythology, an alternate world where Boudicca was not defeated by the Romans, or a crystal forest hiding crustaceous humanoids guarding a staff of power, the game was wide open for anything, and was able to handle it with cleverly designed (though, to be fair, occasionally difficult to understand) rules systems that still felt a lot like D&D.

7) Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary.

There have been a lot of monster books over the years. None of them has been as good as this one, which includes every creature from the AD&D monster books (less, of course, the ones that WotC has reserved for itself as "product identity" - though those have been replaced by versions created to be effectively the same but with different names and physical descriptions, as many people have been doing). Mr. Bloch did not stop there, though, creating a whole batch of creatures of his own design to add in. Among them are the Faeries and their Sidhe Courts, which are some of the best things to come out of the OSR movement (which is not to take anything away from the many, many wonderful things which that movement has produced). I love this monster book more than most, and of course it is easily used with any compatible game.

6) World of Greyhawk Boxed Set.

What can I say about this that hasn't already been said? It is exactly what (A)D&D needed in a setting, with an interesting balance between the idea that would later become known as "Points of Light" and the clash of Kingdoms that drives medieval wargaming. As people have looked at this over the years, the cleverness built in has only become more apparent, adding pathos to the unfortunate direction taken by subsequent products in the line. Including everything from amazingly euphonious, yet still absurd and camp, names to interesting factions and organizations, there is more implied adventure in any one area of the setting map than some settings have in their entire worlds. Topped off by that amazing Darlene map and some really helpful random encounter tables, there is little else that a DM would need to run a wide-ranging campaign for years.

5) Pagan Shore.

I love Pendragon. It is among the best roleplaying games, and one that I wish I were able to play more often. I'm personally most fond of the Fourth Edition rules, but I'm not a fanatic about any of the editions. Whatever, though, the one book in that game line that rises above anything else is this one. Giving a description of a society that is as alien to most modern-day gamers as the Aztecs, but doing so by building the cultural differences into the rules, players will soon find themselves approaching the mindset of the Iron Age Irish. There are a few quibbles to be had, but almost all of those have been addressed by people online, such as a discussion of how to incorporate the actual legal systems of Iron Age Ireland into the game in a way that is neither intrusive nor overwhelming of the adventure parts. It really does work, too. It doesn't hurt that I have a deep and abiding love of the Irish culture and very often want to play a character from whatever the closest analog is in the game world.

4) Flashing Blades.

Despite being one of the most popular settings for adventure fiction throughout the years, the 17th century has seen remarkably little treatment in roleplaying games. One of the earlier (but not the earliest, by any means) games to address that period was Flashing Blades. Marrying a relatively simple game system to a detailed and deep social climbing system, the game calls forth the ambitious swashbucklers and supports that style of play with rules that encourage such behavior without privileging "story" over game play. I'm fairly certain that the only reason this didn't do better than it did is that it didn't have a magic system. Of course, there is little way to include such a thing into a game of this subject, so that is not surprising at all. That said, it might have done it well if the next product on my list had come out a little earlier.

3) GURPS Voodoo: The Shadow War.

This was a game I didn't know I needed until after I got it. At the time, I was simply addicted to GURPS, so I was picking up just about everything that came out. When I got a look at the magic system, though… Look, up until I saw this, I was of the opinion that the RuneQuest magic system was the best one around - and don't get me wrong, it is excellent in many ways that have still not been matched by most games - and the one in Fantasy Wargaming was a glance at what might have been possible had it undergone more development. This one, though, hit every button of what I wanted in a magic system. Mages are not walking artillery pieces, they are subtle (except for the ones who aren't). Magic isn't just wave-wave-BOOM, but a process of conjuring spirits in smoky temples that are kept in the back rooms of Curandera shops and sending them out to do one's bidding. Yet, it still makes this all a part of an adventure game. Some magicians are Spirit Warriors, letting themselves be ridden by powerful Lwa who can do so much more than mere human beings can. The setting was, at the time, very nearly the only one on the market which dealt with race in the Americas in a relatively mature fashion, and was a surprise in that most, or even all, of the players' characters would be black.

2) AD&D 1E Dungeon Masters Guide.

Obviously this was going on my list somewhere. It has been, and rightly, lionized over and again, so I don't really feel the need to add to that general acclaim. Suffice it to say that there are few books out there which include as much useful advice, and none which include the density of advice and actually useful charts per page. Admittedly, one must get used to the writing style, which has been described as "High Gygaxian", but for myself I grew up on it and miss that idiosyncratic voice in gaming. Even if D&D isn't your game, you will almost surely find something of value in here, even if it's just to learn that there is a difference between jasper and onyx or discovering a passel of different terms for "prostitute". This is one of the most recommended books in gaming history, and it is for good reason.

and coming to the pinnacle, what could be better than the DMG?

1) MegaTraveller Boxed Set.

OK, I know that it is rife with typographical errors, mistakes, and other problems that gave this game the nickname "MegaErrata". Still, the first game I chose myself was Traveller, seeing that little black box in the bookstore that served as my first dealer of gaming products, and finding out that it had a book all about starships. Now, all these years later, having played or learned seven (or more, depending on how one counts it) different editions, I have come to the conclusion that this is the edition that did everything closest to right. It retains the flavor of the original game, while still fixing the problems inherent in the original design. It is compatible enough to use the supplementary material for the classic game, but can also make use of a great deal of the material written for T4 or T5 with only minimal conversion, and material for TNE with a little (a lot, actually) more work. Outside of the errata problem, the only disappointment about this game is that it was cut short before being finished, due largely to whatever happened with Digest Group - for example, only two of the alien races (plus two extra human cultures beyond the default one) of the default setting were ever converted to its specifications. The only edition which came as close as this one to perfection has been the Mongoose edition, but I have my own problems with that one.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Process

In order to develop the background for my solo game, I have decided to reach back to my roots. One of the games that I love the most is the second one I ever owned: Traveller. In that game, character creation was procedural. That is, it used charts and tables and a series of dice rolls to generate the history (in sketchy form) of the character. Since then, procedural generation in RPGs has advanced considerably, and people have found ways to apply the same principle to all aspects of a game. There are procedural charts for developing an area, for generating the history of a group of people, and so on.

For my purposes, that sort of procedural generation is going to be especially helpful. It will allow me to generate situations that I might not have thought of on my own, allowing me the added pleasure of discovery (even if most of that discovery will occur during this phase of generating and developing the background).

Another set of elements that I intend to use are those that build background from character decisions. Specifically, there are articles related to GURPS (but not tied to that system) which describe how many farmers are necessary to maintain a particular income level. Since I will be deciding income levels for the noble families based on setting considerations, that will simplify designing the nations by simply stipulating the numbers of peasant farmers and such.

The author of those articles on farming income also wrote a random table for events related to a group, so that histories could be generated by dice roll. Of course I will be using that. In addition, after some internet research to get rough estimates and probabilities, I have revised this article (free article with GURPS stats, though for 3rd edition) about pregnancy and childbirth to reflect more reasonable probabilities (in the article, a pregnancy will result an average of one time in four, where in reality it is almost a tenth of that chance) and reduce the number of dice rolls. Where the original article required a roll for each act of congress, I have taken results from the Kinsey website to limit it to one check per month. That said, adultery can also result in pregnancy, so I've worked out the appropriate modifiers to also check in each instance, if necessary. Further, I've cleared away some of the extraneous bits to simplify things a bit more as well. Finally, I've incorporated ideas from the Reproductive Medicine section of the first GURPS Low-Tech Companion, though I decided that their method as written wasn't interesting enough for a game focused on dynasties.

The reason for doing all of that work is that it then becomes a part of the procedural generation. I can work out, for any given couple, when in their lives they became pregnant and what the consequences of that are, with just a few dice rolls. From there, the children of the nobility are a snap.

Well, sort of. One of the biggest weaknesses of GURPS is the requirement for point-building characters, with no random creation option available. As a result, I've come up with some ideas for generating basic stats (using averaging dice that explode upward by 1 point with each additional roll of 6 on 1d6 after a total result of 15, and halving the difference of results below 10 - that is to say, a roll of 6 or 7 becomes a stat of 8, and a roll of 8 or 9 becomes a stat of 9). Then, I spent a day writing a computer program that randomly determines advantages and disadvantages (other than social or wealth-related ones, which are determined by the setting). It's not perfect, and sometimes results in far more advantages and disadvantages than I want to see, so I reserve the right to simply re-run the program to get new results if I don't like the ones I get.

After all of that, then I will do my first roleplaying of the game, and decide for each character, based on their personality and such, what route in life they will take. That gives me a template to use to base their skills and such on (though I won't be constrained by the templates). So, not entirely random generation, but semi-random. I've been considering the idea of also incorporating the Pendragon personality traits and passions system, which would allow me to more completely generate the characters' personalities randomly. Another option would be to work with the tables in the Gygax Dungeon Master's Guide for NPC personalities. If I do either of those (and I very well might), then my computer program will be nearly useless, too, but I can live with that.

So, the plan is to start with two couples, the earliest rivals in the kingdom that matter. I will work through four generations, year by year (and checking for pregnancy month by month for those couples who are in proximity, plus including the possibilities of adulterous bastards based on each character's personality), including random events in the kingdom. This will require some light roleplaying, as I figure out what each character is doing, and whether or not they are in a situation that might result in pregnancy. (Yes, this means that, in the nerdiest manner possible, I will be rolling to see if they get some. If it weren't just me playing, I could revert that to roleplaying, but since I am all of the characters, I'll leave it mainly up to the dice.) In the process, I'll also be rolling as the characters age, figuring out how many character points they get each year, and so on. Some of that requires me to figure out some other systems, but I have guidance in the GURPS rules that will help.

For those who know GURPS, here are some of the rules that I am going to use (my thinking is evolving on this, so this may change more as time goes on): Path/Book Magic using the Effect Shaping system, Limited Non-Mage Ceremonies, Magery Adds to Rituals, Instant Karma Backlash, Sensing Ritual Attacks, Conditional Rituals, and Cancelling and Dispelling, along with expanded Spirits inspired by GURPS Voodoo, explicitly including Spirit Allies, Spirit Manifestation ranks (Minor, Moderate, and Major), and Spirit Warriors; some rare characters (around one in a thousand or less) will have Precognition, Psychometry, or basic Racial Memory, and I'll be using the duelling Precogs and related rules from GURPS Supers, should that come up; some rare characters with Empathy will also have Vague Telesend; it is possible, but difficult, for a character to gain Trained by a Master, Heroic Archer, or Weapon Master, but no one will be born with those advantages; most of the "Harsh Realism" rules will be in effect; the general TL will be 2, but farming will be at 3; Physician skill is unavailable, so Surgeons need to use the special rules in GURPS Low-Tech; doctors in the setting will have Esoteric Medicine to represent magical methods of healing (Magery will add) and/or Pharmacy (Herbal), but I am undecided as yet on Herb Lore (I do like the idea of magic potions, but I do also want to downplay the power of magic in the setting - Alchemy is right out).

The reason that I've chosen four generations is that, in the old Irish legal system, a family (fine) was defined as all descendants of a man to four generations. This was especially important for determining who was eligible to be elected (!) king of the tuath, or tribe (which incorporated all of the people who lived in a particular area). The Anglo-Saxons had a different method of determining kingship, but this one opens the setting out to more social politicking, as opposed to pure power politicking, which I like and which lets me make more use of GURPS Social Engineering.

I don't know if any of this will be of any use to you, but it helps me to organize my thoughts.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Trying To Break The Habit Of Silence, Or, How To (Re-)Learn A Game System

Yes, I've gotten into the habit of not posting. That's not a good thing, so I am going to try to force myself back into the habit of posting. The biggest obstacle is that I still don't have a game to play in, nowhere to run one here, and an aversion to online gaming (at least with my current equipment). So, what to do?

I've dug up my previous plan to run a solo game for myself, and added the idea of posting play reports here. To do this, I had to decide what sort of game and setting to work with. Since I've been re-enjoying Game of Thrones and the Song of Ice and Fire series, Tanith Lee's Flat Earth books, Dune, and the Godfather movies, I thought that I'd want to play a game of dynasties. The thing is, though, that to do that, I have to do some of the worldbuilding in advance, as the interplay of dynastic politics requires knowing at least some of the people who will be involved in it. That is alright by me, since I have come to realize that I am addicted to worldbuilding.

Anyway, I got to thinking about what sort of setting I'd want to use. I decided against the Sixguns & Sorcery setting and also against the settings I've worked out so far (Terra Ultima, Hearth, the Paynim Empire, and the like) in favor of an entirely new one that is better suited to the style I am looking for. That style is one that I've been characterizing to myself as "Gritty but not Grim" - that is, I want to emphasize the physical unpleasantness of the setting, but I do want a fairly optimistic outlook about human behavior. I want combat to be a dangerous, messy affair that is a risk to engage in, but I don't want a world peopled entirely by rapists and thieves (not that there won't be any, I just want to explore the idea that people in the setting are basically decent, if not always perfectly so). In that way, if I have something horrible happen, it contrasts more fully with the normal attitudes of the people in the setting. Think of it as perhaps a little more like Dune than A Game of Thrones.

To that end, I decided that the setting should be one similar to the Dark Ages in England. Technology will be at an early Medieval or late Iron Age level. Kingdoms will be small and fragmented, and the Kings will mainly exert their power close to their home castles. The society will be somewhere between Anglo-Saxon and Irish or Welsh, probably tending slightly toward the Irish simply because I know them best.

I've been thinking about the fundamental setting assumptions, starting with the rules to use. Since it will allow me to do a lot of things that I want to do, and also can be teased into allowing the dice to make many decisions, I'm going to use GURPS, with a lot of the gritty switches turned on. I'll be using Mythic Game Master Emulator for those times when I need something besides my own choices (and to add some variety so that it's not entirely predictable to me). I want there to be magic, but I want it to be soft and subtle, so I'll be using the "Path/Book Magic" (I hate that name, but the rules are excellent) system that GURPS has. That will require a small amount of design to make it really useful, but much of that can even be done in play. I'll also be adding some of the concepts from GURPS Voodoo (which was the origin of that magic system anyway) such as Minor, Moderate, and Major Manifestations of the "deity" type spirits, the Spirit Warrior concept, and so on.

Some of the specific gritty rules switches I want to turn on include "The Last Gasp" alternate fatigue rules (one change is to alleviate the Long-Term Fatigue recovery a little - it's just too punishing as written! - and make Mild Fatigue recover at 120/starting FP minutes, Severe Fatigue at 20/starting FP hours, and Deep Fatigue at 80/starting FP hours), the "realistic" damage for bows in "The Deadly Spring", the alternate grappling rules in Technical Grappling, and perhaps a few other things. Most of the "Harsh Reality for…" rules will probably also be turned on, too.

For a lot of the interpersonal interactions, I plan to use Social Engineering, as that, particularly, will let me turn much of the character decisions over to the dice. I'll still be picking general strategies, but this allows me to simply and quickly judge whether one character can convince another or whatever.

Since it will be a dynastic game, children will be important. That means that, to a certain extent, I need to invent a random character creation system. I've been playing with some ideas for that. I've also come up with a system for randomly figuring out who gets pregnant and what happens during the pregnancy, based on material in the Low Tech Companions and an old Pyramid article titled "Blessed Events". Neither of those were very good on their own, but with a little research on the Kinsey site and such, I made them work out much better.

Anyway, I am not very good with GURPS anymore, so this will let me get back into the swing of it without thoroughly boring a group of players while I look something up and re-read a rule or whatever. I can just work out what happens, write it up as a play report, and post it here. Once I get going, of course, as I need to at least work up the important members of the dynasty first. After a while, hopefully I'll be in working order to run it, too, as one of my friends has expressed interest in playing a GURPS game (he's the guy who got me into the system twenty-five years ago or so).

Saturday, January 25, 2014

[V&V]FBI Guide to Metahumans: Reaper

I don't have a game going, still, so I have little that I can write about from that perspective. On the other hand, I do still have the FBI Guide setting that I can continue to describe. So, here we go, with one of the more sinister metahumans.


Identity: ?
Side: ?
Sex: M
Experience: 277,657
Level: 20
Age: 38
Training: ?


1. Death Touch. See description in rule book.

2. Invulnerability: Ignore 15 points of damage per turn.

3. Emotion Control (Fear): 18" radius (except to the rear), PR=8 per attempt.

4. Cosmic Awareness: May know the answers to yes/no questions by attuning to the Universe. See description in rule book.

5. Revivification: PR=25 per attempt, taking 1d10 turns. Success: 100%, -10% per day dead (or -2% per day dead if the body is carefully preserved). A newly revived character has Power equal to 2xE and 1 day of healing in Hit Points.

Weight: 240 lbs.
Basic Hits: 5
Agility Mod: 0

Strength: 21
Endurance: 10
Agility: 13
Intelligence: 18
Charisma: 15

Reactions from:
Allies: +2
Enemies: -2

Hit Mod: 3.042
Hit Points: 16
Damage Mod: +2
Heal Rate: 1.25
Accuracy: +1
Power: 62
Carrying Cap: 1231 lbs.
Basic HTH: 1d10
Movement Rates: 44"
Det. Hidden: 14%
Det. Danger: 18%
Inventing Points: 26.8 (after several inventing attempts and I increases)
Inventing: 54%

Origin & Background: No one really knows where the Reaper came from. Perhaps he is a force of nature. At various times, he has been known to act rather differently, ranging from a cold, sociopathic murderer to a kindly protector of the weak, and just about everything in between. Maybe there is more than one, but that would be a terrifying possibility.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Not-So-Obscure Games: Traveller5

There are now 7 official editions of Traveller, plus at least one apparently unofficial published version (and a wide variety of unpublished or electronic-only versions). They are, in order, Classic Traveller (CT), MegaTraveller (MT), Traveller: The New Era (TNE), Marc Miller's Traveller (T4), GURPS Traveller (GT), Mongoose Traveller (MgT), and the latest entry, Traveller5 (T5), plus the apparently unofficial D20 version of Traveller (T20). All of these except for T20 are listed at the beginning of T5.

T5 was funded by a Kickstarter campaign last year. It succeeded wildly, generating nearly 300 thousand dollars (at the time, the record for tabletop roleplaying games), and, like many such oversuccessful campaigns it delivered the rewards much later than the initial estimate (in fact, there are still a few parts of the rewards that have not yet been delivered, but communication by Mr. Miller keeps confidence high that they will be delivered soon).

It is a huge, hardcover book, weighing in at nearly five pounds, and consisting of 656 pages, the last 16 of which are color plates, mostly showing rendered computer-graphic depictions of starships from the Imperial setting that is so closely tied to Traveller historically. The inside covers have useful information, too, the front inside having a photocopiable character card, the back with a simple map of the whole of known space in the Imperial setting. The interior of the book is high-quality, with a heavy-bond paper in actual stitched signatures.

The type is of a reasonable size, and the pictures are functional more than decorative. In many ways it is reminiscent of The Traveller Book, which is from me high praise. The cover design is the classic, and in my opinion perfect, design made famous with the original boxed sets of CT (and used also for GT and MgT): a black background with the name of the game in red with a red line coming from the left side over to the last character of the name, and some descriptive words in white (in this case, "Core Rules" above the red line and "Science-Fiction Adventures in the Far Future" below the name). So, it is a wonderful artifact from the perspective of appearance. The appearance is only marred by the unfortunately frequent occurrence of typographical and layout errors. These errors are not as frequent as in some previous editions (T4 being notable, though MT had its share). But no one is going to buy the game on its appearance alone. What matters is the content.

T5 continues the design that was present in T4. The basic system is one which generates a target number by adding an attribute and a skill level. Once this is done, and modified for circumstances, a number of dice based on the difficulty are rolled, with a roll of equal to or less than the target number indicating success. Most rolls are on 2 or 3 dice (average or difficult), but can range from 1 to 8 (or even 10 on very hasty attempts). All dice in Traveller are six-sided. There is an interesting rule that makes skill important, rather than relying entirely on native talent, which says that if the difficulty is greater than the skill, then an extra die of difficulty is added. This is basically the same system as in T4, except that T5 removes the clumsy half-dice of the earlier edition.

The rest of the book includes everything from character creation (there are now 13 possible professions to choose from, ranging from civilian ones to military and criminal professions) to starship design, psionics and merchant activities to wilderness and alien animals, just as in every other version. Added are sections on clones, robots, biological androids and synthetics, genetically engineered creatures, sections on vehicle, weapon, and armor design (which should make the people who hate vehicle design systems pretty happy, actually, being much simplified from the old Striker, MT, TNE, and T4 methods). Weapons and Armor are made by picking a basic type and adding adjectives describing its specific configuration. Anime fans will be happy to see the Oversized and Titan adjectives, which can, among other things, result in 4- or 6-meter tall battlesuits (mecha!) Vehicles are a little more complex, but much simplified from those older methods of laying out every element of the vehicle. In addition to all of that, there is the ThingMaker system, which allows a Referee to estimate the physical characteristics of any science-fictional gadget she can imagine, based on a system of organizing common sense, basically.

Probably the niftiest thing added is the QREBS system, which is a rating for an item's Quality, Reliability, Ease-of-use, Burden, and Safety. This allows specific items that are variations of a basic item.

Technology is now described from Tech Level 0 (stone age and such) on up through 15 (the Imperial TL in the default background) all the way up to 33, which is now treated as the technological limit of species that have not transcended existence. There is a method of figuring out the technological path of an alien species, including its path toward the Singularity above TL21, which is unstable and will quickly, within just a fairly short time (though still on the scale of generations) result in extinction, transcendence, or a voluntary or involuntary reduction to a sustainable level of technology (back down to TL21 or less).

There is a system for designing alien species. This is really quite good, but it does result in the annoying section of the book dedicated to senses. This is a full 13 pages, and is very technical. Worse, it is rarely used - in fact, there is an admonition to use it "only as really necessary" (an admonition that is fairly frequent in the book, actually, forming the basis of the MOARN "Map Only As Really Necessary" acronym, for example).

The single most annoying change, though, is the change of characteristics. Before, they were referred to by their name or an abbreviation. So, there was Strength, which could be Str or S, Dexterity (Dex or D), and so on. Now characteristics are called C1 through C6. Aliens may have slightly varying characteristics (Agility instead of Dexterity and such), which retain the characteristic number, but have slightly different effects in the game. Instead of rolling Dex, you would roll C2, which could be Dexterity, Agility, or Grace, depending on the alien species. Blah.

So, here's the thing. There is a lot, a lot, of useful stuff in there. Every Traveller Referee should probably have a copy for inspiration at least. I am especially happy with the new systems designed to help a Referee develop a setting (so that the game continues to be useful for more than just the Imperium setting). However, I am not very happy with the post-TNE system of rolling under a target, and even less with the many-dice system of T4 and T5. As I have said many times, to me MT is the ideal edition to date, and MgT approaches that one in quality (though GT includes some really useful subsystems for background design, such as the trade routes system in GT:Far Trader or the expanded world design in GT:First In). T5 just doesn't match that one, continuing down a path forged by T4 (and ignited by TNE). There is just so much in T5, though, that is worth adapting to other editions. I don't know if it's worth $75 to any but the most ardent Traveller fan, but at least it is available for considerably less on CD-ROM (at $35 it should be a good value to any Traveller Referee). I don't see the Jump Drive flash drives on the Far Futures website, unfortunately, but those are pretty neat.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Post-Apocalypse Gaming

This is your new tabletop.
Not what you're thinking.

Sometimes, I speculate about counterfactual things. For instance, on occasion I think about what I would do for gaming if there were a societal collapse scenario. If, say, there were a massive plague that resulted in 90% of the population dying off and I happened to survive (though that isn't essential, this is speculating about what a random gamer who survived such an event might do, really), or a zombie apocalypse, or whatever. What would I do for gaming, supposing that I found a group to play games with afterward.

These super-complicated games that are being sold these days don't seem like they'd be really useful in such a situation. If I need a thick hardcover book full of charts and lists of feats and whatnot, that's something I have to lug around that weighs a lot and doesn't contribute much to my survival (though it would contribute to my life). What happens if I lose it? As an aside, wargames with fiddly sets of counters or plastic miniatures aren't much use. We need wargames that can be put together without much more difficulty than chess or shogi. That bears thinking about, too, but it's beside the point for this post.

Let's assume that I can have a d6 or three and a d20. From there, it's easy to put together an OD&D variant based on, say, Original Edition Delta, LotFP, and S&W:Whitebox. Classes are easy: fighters start at 2000xp for 2nd level, magic-users 2500xp, clerics (if you have them) 1500xp, thieves 1200 or 1250xp. Then double that amount at each level gain. Hit dice are in d6, each level for fighters, 2 for 3 levels for clerics, 1 for 2 levels for magic-users and thieves. Fighters get a bonus hit point at first level, other classes get a bonus hit point at levels they don't get hit dice (the bonus point goes away at the next level that gains a hit die). Combat is simple: a d20 plus the attacker's hit dice and plus the defender's armor class for 20+ to hit, 1d6 for damage (1d6-1 or roll 2d6 and take the low for light weapons like daggers, 1d6+1 or 2d6 and take the high for two-handed weapons). Saves are d20 plus level plus 4 (plus 5 for fighters) for 20+. Each class except fighters get a bonus of 2 in a single save category (spells for magic-users, thieves for devices such as traps or wands, clerics for poison or paralyzation). Thieves get 4 skill points at first level and 2 skill points at each further level, which they can use to add to any of the skills. Everyone gets all skills at 1 chance in 6 (meaning 6 on a d6, or 1 on a d6, or x1 damage for sneak attacking). The skills are: Climbing, Searching, Find Traps, Hunting/Foraging, Languages, Sleight of Hand, Sneak Attack, Stealth, Tinkering. Foraging and Hunting are affected by the terrain, from base 0 in 6 in desert, 1 in 6 in mountain or swamp, 2 in 6 in plains, or 3 in 6 in forest or jungle, each skill point increasing the chance by 1 in 6. In the desert, water can only be found on 1 chance in 12 (roll 2 d6, the first as even = 0/odd = 6, or low = 0/high = 6, the second as a regular d6), each skill point adding 1. Fighters get to attack once for each level if the opponents are 1HD.

The difficult part is remembering the details of spells. I still need to think about a good way to do those.

Anyway, experience points are 1 for each gold piece (or silver piece) recovered. Also 100 experience points for each HD of defeated enemies (or a more complicated way of doing it that goes from 5xp for a <1HD up to 1000xp for a 16HD creature or whatever, but this is probably too much effort). Special abilities add 1HD for this purpose each.

Stats are equally simple. Each one is 3d6, with a 13+ giving a bonus of +1, and a 8 or less giving a -1 penalty. If the characteristic for the class is 13+ (Str for fighters, Int for magic-users, Wis for clerics, Dex for thieves), gain +5% experience earned, plus the same bonus for Wisdom of 13+ (clerics count this twice), and again for Charisma of 13+. Charisma also has a number of followers equal to a base of 4, +1 at 13-15, +2 at 16-17, +3 at 18, -1 from 6-8, -2 from 4-5, -3 at 3. What the stats bonuses are used for varies by DM (except Charisma is always used for reaction and loyalty/morale checks). Reaction rolls are made on 2d6: 2-5 negative, 6-8 uncertain (will follow others if there is a plurality or majority), 9-12 positive.

Personally, I'd dump clerics (too much to remember two spell lists and two spell progressions). I don't know about thieves. The LotFP method is fairly simple, if there could be an easier way to remember their nine skills.

Encumbrance should probably be in some version of stone encumbrance (where each stone is 10-15 pounds of weight), so that a weapon carried so it can be easily used is 1 stone, light armor (AC7) is 1 stone, medium armor (AC5) is 2 stone, and heavy armor (AC3) is 4 stone. A shield (1 point bonus to AC) is 1 stone. 5000 coins is 1 stone. There are also bundles, 5 to the stone. A weapon carried packed away is 1 bundle, or 2 bundles for two-handed weapons. A character can carry Strength in stone at 3" move, half (round up) that at 9", halfway (round up) between the two at 6", and up to a quarter (round up) of Strength at 12". So, at Strength 10, a character could carry 3 stone at 12" move, 5 stone at 9", 8 stone at 6", or up to 10 stone at a rate of 3". Of course, someone could change the AC to ascending, but whatever.

So, here we are, coming toward a bare bones approach to roleplaying, using D&D as the basic framework. I can think of other, even simpler, approaches, but this one is a pretty damned good one, I think. If only I could find a good way to handle magic-user spells and spell progression. Maybe it would be better to take a page from The Arcanum and allow a magic-user to cast a number of spells equal to level plus one per day, limited to a spell level of the character's level divided by 2, rounded up. Still need to have the spell lists somehow, but that might be the best way to go.

Maybe later on, if I see any interest in the idea, I'll talk about some other simple roleplaying games that we could play in the post-apocalypse. Risus is an example, and there's a version of EABA designed specifically for playing while hiking, but I could talk about my own Trait System too. If you have any ideas or interest in the subject, please comment!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

World Of Hearth - The City-State Of Logreb

Last time, I talked about how I am working on the world of Hearth (pronounced "hurth", by the way), and how I am scaling down my initial setup ideas. So, here is some discussion about the specific area and situation that the players will start in. It is a small, backwater city-state known as Logreb which lies at the edge of the Paynim Empire, subject to the Grand Imperial City of Payn. This is just an overview, mind you, and the players will be offered any number of ways to go from here, in addition to the hints that are mentioned below.

I really need to get a better camera. These are
five mile hexes. Logreb is the large dot roughly
in the center of the map.
Logreb is a fairly small city, as these things go, having only around 13,000 citizens dwelling within its walls. Still, it is larger than any city that the players have ever seen. Logreb stands at a ford (now bridged, of course) on the southern bank of a meandering river called the Vandin that flows from the Ablashian lands to the north down south toward the central part of the Paynim Empire. Logreb is surrounded by fairly fertile fields feeding 12 market towns, ranging in size from about 1300 people up to around 4200, as well as many smaller villages. To the south of Logreb lie the Stavral Highlands, a stretch of hilly country that hides bandits and fiercely independent hill tribesmen (who may be the same thing, actually). To the north lies the Greenwood Forest, which is also filled with unfriendly tribesmen, as well as fairy creatures (according to local rumor). The majority of Logreb's farming villages are concentrated on a band between these two rough areas.

Logreb is ruled by a sorcerer-king named Traskal Devin (MU17), who is not particularly despotic. Lord Devin simply asks that the taxes are paid according to a reasonable schedule, and will only bring out his iron fist to combat activities that interfere with commerce, such as bandits or excessive graft. Murder is frowned upon, but only indifferently prosecuted (unless it is of one of the wealthier citizens). As a result, Logreb runs riot with a variety of decadent pleasures unavailable in the northern lands. The city's numerous thieves have developed a certain level of organization, modeling their structures on the more legitimate crafts guilds. There are some who say that nearly one out of every six people in the city is involved in these thieves' guilds, but surely they can't be that common. In any case, there seem to be several competing thieves' guilds in Logreb. If there are any assassins in Logreb, they are not publicly known.

Less than fifteen miles to the south of Logreb stands a lonely ruin just within the hills of the Stavral Highlands. It is ancient, so old that no one knows how long it has been there. The locals call it the Pile. It is said that there are tunnels and cellars below the ruin that contain vast treasures, as well as terrifying monsters. Certainly, it seems to be the center of raids by orcs, gnolls, ogres, and such. Perhaps those humanoid creatures have made a home in the tunnels underneath the ruin. The villagers nearby have taken to building wooden walls around their villages to keep out the raiders, but the fields still lie endangered, causing Lord Devin to send companies of soldiers to fend off the raiders. Unfortunately, he cannot spare too many for the purpose, as there are still problems with Ablashian glory-seeking warbands and forest tribesmen of the Greenwood to contend with to the north. Lord Devlin is trying to encourage his sorcerer-knights in the castles nearby to take a more active hand in combating the humanoid raiders, but they find themselves already busy with the hill bandits and tribesmen of the Highlands.

The PCs are all travelers from the Ablashian lands (Ablashian society is a lot more like American society than any others on Hearth, being structured more or less like the towns of the Old West, so it will be easiest for new players to assume those roles) who know each other from childhood (or who met weeks ago on the road). They have recently left their home counties and come to Logreb because it is the closest city that offers the possibility of a better, or at least more interesting, life with the potential for greater advancement than their home. Perhaps they will eventually want to travel further into the Paynim lands, or maybe back north to the Ablashian lands (or even further into the lands of the barbarian Kurai), but right now they have spent nearly all they have to get this far, and have little more than the clothes (and armor) on their backs and the weapons at their belts. What bright future awaits them?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Setting Notes - Organizing My Thoughts On The World Of Hearth

I've been making maps and writing descriptions toward a fantasy setting to use for AD&D1E (yeah, I know, I keep talking about doing this and then never actually get to the part where I run it - I'm just really particular about my "vision", which makes me a pretentious twit, I realize), to be called Hearth, in keeping with the long tradition of giving worlds names that are similar to Earth. The problem I'm having is that I am really unfocused. I know the things I want, but when I write it, they aren't coming together. So, here's where I'm going to start trying to hammer out exactly what I am wanting to do.

First, there are some things I don't want to see in the world. This isn't going to be the sixguns & sorcery setting I also want to run, so guns are a thing I don't want to see. I don't want player nonhuman races - there may be elves and such, but not as playable races. Hardly as "races" in the sense of intelligent animals. More like spirits with bodies, maybe. Fey races with fey motivations. Goblins with fairer forms. Not to mention the goblins. I don't want clerics, or any proof of divinity in the world. All divine action should be "explainable" in terms of magic or such. Which doesn't mean that there won't be reasons to sacrifice at a roadside shrine, or to join the organized churches. Just that the sort of living saint that is embodied by clerics (or paladins, or druids) won't be in the setting. This also means no healing magic. Speaking of which, alignments will be discarded as the nonsense that they are, in favor of the "For King and Country" system found in an issue of Dragon magazine (so, with clerics and cleric spells gone, the only reference to alignment really left is the M-U's "Protection from Evil" spell, which will be redefined as "Protection from Spirit Beings", meaning anything native to other planes of existence).

OK, on to things that I do want. I want a group of barbarians who live like my understanding of the pre-Christian Irish or pre-Roman Gauls (or maybe a little like Orlanthi from Glorantha), but I want them on the fringes of the setting. I want the PCs to come from a relatively barbaric area I call "Ablashia", which is inspired by some concepts from an obscure game called Legendary Lives by Joe and Kathleen Williams. They will be coming to an empire of sorcerer-kings called the Paynim Empire, to one of the cities on the fringe of the empire. The Paynim include some periphery states with vampire- and pirate-kings (the latter very much like Pirates of the Caribbean, but without guns and cannon - the ideas there are inspired by the volume of Thieves' Guild dedicated to pirates) 
instead, and one of the sorcerer-kings is a lich necromancer who actually does have his people's best interests at heart, using undead to free his people from servitude. I want to draw some concepts from bad sword & sorcery films like The Warrior and the Sorceress, and include an order of fighting monks (not Monks, more like Paladins who are redesigned to better fit the cosmology of the setting; maybe I'll even call them Homeracs) whose religion was crushed and scattered, so they wander the world, dispensing justice according to their code and helping the weak against the strong who want to exploit them. I want a people who have made alliance with dragons, worshiping them and fighting at their side, and even from their backs. I want demon cults, but I want it so that not all demons are inimical to humanity. I want werewolf warbands in the deep woods and assassin cults on distant mountaintops. I want steppe nomads whose elite warriors ride into battle on the backs of bulls, and who make alliance with wandering bands of Minotaurs. I want Elves who are sadly watching the ancient forests fading away, and who are fading with them (their leaders being something like Arafel from The Dreamstone and The Tree of Swords and Jewels, almost gods themselves). I want Dwarves who monomaniacally maintain the world-machine in secret tunnels at the heart of the mountains. I want Goblins who are fairy creatures that steal children and hold terrible markets in the middle of the night.

So, the nonhuman, non-fairy/giant, non-undead, intelligent races. I want Minotaurs, obviously. I also want Githyanki and Githzerai, Mind Flayers, Kzaddich and Tsalakians, Lew Pulsipher's Timelords (Dragon 65), Artificers of Yothri and their Amphorons, the array of non-goblin humanoids (Orcs, Kobolds, Gnolls, Flinds, Ogres, Ogrillons, mainly), Kuo-toa, Locathah, Sahuagin, Beholders, Centaurs, Tabaxi, Aarakocra, Grimlocks, Lizardmen, Bullywugs, Yuan Ti, Galeb Duhr, Treants, Aboleths, Doppelgangers, Harpies, Merfolk, Neo-Otyughs and Otyughs, Ropers, Su-monsters, Troglodytes, Tritons, Neogi and Umber Hulks, Mi-go, Trolls, Thugtoads and Todawan Masters, Glurm (Zen Frogs), Crabmen, Dertesha, Draug, Formians, Ratlings, Mogura-jin, and Maun-Ge. This, as I said, does not include fairy and giant races, the undead, or entities native to other planes of existence (although, perhaps some come from other worlds). This is going to be the hardest to deal with, since as natural creatures they have to exist in places on the world, and I have to work out how they fit with the human nations. Some of them (Githyanki and Githzerai, Kzaddich and Tsalakians, Artificers of Yothri, Mi-go) live in other planes of existence, even though they do not originate there, or on other worlds, so those considerations are not so important. Similarly, a number of these races live under the sea or under the surface of the world, so they just need to be placed generally. But the humanoids, the Draug, and others have their own nations that need to be considered.

Religion is going to be twofold. That is, there are two types of religion: the Churches and the pagan gods (which include demons). The Churches will have a hierarchy that the PCs could get involved in. Those ideas will be similar to the way religion is handled in Flashing Blades. There might also be incidents of divine intervention in rare instances. The pagan gods will have shrines where they can receive sacrifices. They will be individual, powerful beings existing in a particular place. That is, there might be a "Zeus" (Zeus will probably not actually be one of the pagan gods in the setting) who lives at the shrine in Highgate, while another "Zeus" lives at the temple in Payn. The two, Zeus of Highgate and Zeus of Payn, are not the same entity, and don't share knowledge between each incarnation, though a person who has spent a lot of time learning about the "Zeus type" would have an advantage in knowing how to approach a new Zeus encountered at a different temple/shrine. There might, additionally, be slight differences between the two incarnations. The only real difference between the pagan gods and the demons is that demons only exist in one place at a time - there is only one Demogorgon in all the world, who will only be able to show up to one summoner at a time (well, also most of the demons do not necessarily have humanity's best interests at heart). In this sense, the Titans (for instance) are a type of demon. The same could be said for any number of other powerful entities (Bahamut and Tiamat, for example).

There are several competing Churches in the setting. I've written some versions of them on this blog before. There is the Tetradic Church which worships the four Elemental Gods, whose influence is transmitted from the Celestial World to the mundane world through the mediation of the twelve Zodiacal Beasts (the Church is firm that there is no truth to the heretical claims of a secret thirteenth Zodiacal Beast), each of whom has three Decanic Solars. Each Solar has seven Planetars through which the elemental forces are transmitted to the world. This one will be organized mostly like medieval Christianity, with a few significant differences. I'm thinking that they should have an equivalent to the cultus of Saints, but I'm not sure yet how I want to handle that.

Next up is the Fatalist Church, who worship the Lady of Fate, the Weaving Goddess. They have a fairly rigid code of justice which governs them. I base them loosely on medieval Islam, though, so they aren't fundamentalist about things.

There is the Path of the Veil, which is a Church whose holy orders are composed of Monks and Illusionists. They believe that the world is a veil of illusion pulled over the eyes of the inhabitants, who are themselves illusions. This will be a lot like Buddhism in organization. I may have it comprise several independent Churches, similar to the way that Buddhism has everything from Tibetan to Zen forms.

I'm not sure if there will be a Church of the One and the Prime, which would be worshipers of the Modrons. If I do, it will be the most rigid and fundamentalist of the Churches. A place for everyone and everyone in their place.

I don't yet know what the religion of the Homeracs (or whatever I end up calling the reskinned Paladins) will be like yet.

I started out making a huge map of the whole continent - a large affair nearly 5000 miles across and over 3000 north to south. Then I realized: I don't need that much space to start. Canning that large map will actually make the placement of the nonhumans a lot easier, since I can just add area when I get around to them. I still think that I should have a general idea of the layout of the continent, but it will be easier to make a rough map that is penciled in (subject to changes) than to set things down in stone (or ink) right now. That kinda makes me a little sad, since I'd like to have the detail of the World of Greyhawk right off the bat, with the populations and troop dispositions roughed out, but I can live with the more immediate necessities.

If you've gotten this far, I am impressed! Thank you for reading, and I would love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Did You Miss Me?

Two and a half months since I've posted anything here, and for some reason I think that there will still be people reading it. Maybe I'm crazy. Anyway, I've got a couple of things that I wanted to mention, gaming-wise, and so I'm going to post about them now.

First off, I looked in my mail today, and found a neat little packet from Tim Shorts of Gothridge Manor and GM Games. It was an envelope containing the spiffy adventure (originally a one-page dungeon) called "Where is Margesh Blackblood?". It's available in PDF form at RPGNow for "pay what you want", so you could run right over there right now and get it for free, or for a buck or two, or for a hundred dollars if you wanted to pay that much for it. It's a quick little bounty hunt for a wayward bandit. I love Tim's adventures, even the simple ones like this one. Well, simpler than some. There are some neat twists here that will probably have the players questioning their characters' motivations. Or not.

I am still thinking about how best to really review Traveller5. For a quick one-liner, though, I am sad to say that I am not entirely happy with it. Still, it's got some really good stuff in there.

I was recently nudged back toward working on my Top Secret retroclone. I opened the file, but didn't really get anything done. We'll see how that goes. Most of my other projects, such as the WRG Ancients-based RPG, have pretty much been abandoned. A major exception is the MegaTraveller retroclone idea, which I have modified into a version of that edition adapted to my own SF starfaring setting.

People who have been paying attention to that Goodreads widget down there toward the bottom of the right sidebar will have noticed that I have been reading Stephen King's "Dark Tower" series of books. This is my first time reading them. When I finish the one I am on, I am going to go ahead and read the eighth one (The Wind Through the Keyhole) rather than going on to the fifth one. I am told that this is the intended order, and that King only wrote the fifth-seventh ones first because he wanted to finish the story before he dies (the car accident that almost killed him kinda kicked him in the ass to do it quickly). I'm a little bit surprised that I have never seen a gaming version of Mid-World. I like it, though it is substantially different than my own "sixguns & sorcery" setting.

Speaking of my own settings, Tim Brannan over at The Other Side has given us his own version of Appendix N. I think that's a neat exercise, so I've done up my own, as it would currently be. Like Tim's, mine will also include particularly interesting movies (I'll list them after the books, though). I make no apologies for the fact that I include a couple of westerns, and even an SF title or two. I am, however, going to avoid non-fiction and gaming books for now:


  • Asprin, Robert L.: "Thieves' World" series (editor)
  • Burroughs, Edgar Rice: "Barsoom" series
  • Cherryh, C.J.: THE DREAMSTONE and THE TREE OF SWORDS AND JEWELS (particularly as published together and slightly revised under the title THE DREAMING TREE; can also be found together, unrevised, as ARAFEL'S SAGA)
  • Herbert, Frank: DUNE
  • Holdstock, Robert: "Mythago" series
  • Howard, Robert E.: "Conan" stories
  • Lee, Tanith: "Flat Earth" series, THE BIRTHGRAVE, et al.
  • Leiber, Fritz: "Fafhrd & Grey Mouser" series
  • Lovecraft, H.P.: "Dreamlands" stories
  • Martin, George R.R.: "A Song of Ice and Fire" series
  • Powers, Tim: ON STRANGER TIDES, et al.
  • Sabatini, Rafael: CAPTAIN BLOOD, THE SEA HAWK, et al.
  • Smith, Clark Ashton: "Zothique" stories, "Averoigne" stories, et al.
  • Tolkien, J.R.R.: THE HOBBIT, "Lord of the Rings" trilogy
  • Tremayne, Peter: "Sister Fidelma" series


  • Cat People (the original, though the remake is not terrible) and Curse of the Cat People
  • Conan the Barbarian (it is not Howard, but Milius's magnum opus is still an intriguing fantasy film)
  • The Dark Crystal
  • Dead Man
  • Dragonslayer
  • Excalibur
  • Eyes of Fire (sometimes called Cry Blue Sky)
  • Fire & Ice
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and the other two "Man With No Name" films
  • Heavy Metal (the Taarna sequence)
  • John Carter (like Conan, above, it is not the original, but it is still a good science-fantasy film)
  • Krull
  • Labyrinth
  • Legend
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Pale Rider
  • Pirates of the Caribbean series
  • The Princess Bride
  • Princess Mononoke
  • The Secret of Roan Inish
  • Spirited Away
  • Star Wars (the original, now called "Episode IV", is an excellent fantasy adventure story with coming-of-age themes)
  • Unforgiven
  • The Warrior and the Sorceress
  • The Wicker Man

There you go. I don't know if I'm back in the sense of regular posting, but I hope to at least post a little more often than I have been.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

What The OSR Means To Me

Pardon the public wanking, but I don't have anything else to write right now. Also, I forgot to get something finished for the Obscure Games Appreciation Day, but I still want to write up my suggested changes to Fantasy Wargaming.

Over at The Mule Abides, James Nostack has written a screed claiming the end of the OSR (and this is not the first such claim I've heard – it's pretty much like "Death of Hippie" or "Punk Is Dead" it happens so often), now that a person using the moniker Skidoo has composed a complete flowchart of AD&D 1E combat, from surprise rolls to psionics and unarmed combat. Nostack's argument, as I understand it, is that because this ends any need for further analysis of the core engine that makes up AD&D, there is no further need for an OSR to exist. It seems as though his assumption is that such "rabbinical" (in his words) focus on understanding a particular form of the rules for D&D is the raison d'être of the OSR.

I wrote in response to that, saying that for me, "the OSR is about a rejection of the primacy of story that ultimately led to the Forge and the concept of 'story games' or 'story now' play styles (and I was once very interested in Forge-style gaming – it was when I discovered that I wasn't having much fun playing that way that I looked around and found the OSR). It is about emphasizing actions over the alleged meanings of those actions. It includes a return to the wargaming roots of the hobby, and regains for logistics and strategic thinking a place in play that informs player choices rather than being abstracted away as supposedly 'un-fun'."

That's really why I am interested in all of this early play-style discussion and practice. I look at it like this: back in the early days of motion pictures, they approached their subject like documenting a play or adapting fictional writing directly. It was when filmmakers began paying attention to the particular strengths of the actual medium, rather than adapting the methods of other media, that motion picture became a meaningful artform in itself. Similarly, if roleplaying games are limited to reproducing fictional writing or motion pictures in an interactive format, they will never get anywhere. It is only when roleplaying games take advantage of the unique strengths of the format that they will become a serious and meaningful addition to the arts. That's why I am not really interested any longer in rules that duplicate the requirements of traditional storytelling, such as "hero points" and the like (unless they are fully integrated into the setting, as was done with TORG, such that they become something that the characters could possibly discuss in a meaningful way). I realize that these sorts of rules showed up at an early stage (for instance, there is a crude "hero point" rule in Top Secret), but they seem unnecessary and intrusive from the perspective of roleplaying as a game.

To me, roleplaying is about playing "let's pretend", not about making stories. That is, I want to be able to express my heroic, dinosaur-tripping self, not write a story about a guy who is heroic and trips dinosaurs, if you see what I mean. If I am not heroic, then my character in the game should not be. I can write a hero, I can write a story about tripping dinosaurs, those things are easy. What I want from a roleplaying game is to be able to be a hero, even if it is only at the table. To be a hero, I have to have the possibility of not being a hero in front of me. If I fail, then I fail, and failure can be fun, too, through pathos. Plus, there's always the next character, the next situation.

I dunno, what do you think? Am I merely wanking here? Or is this line of thinking actually something that might inform real play at the table in a positive way? Or, more chillingly, is thinking about this sort of thing destructive to actual play, and my predilection for it part of the reason that I haven't actually played an actual game for months?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Nothing To Say

I confess that I've hit something of a dry spell of stuff to write about related to gaming. This is probably because I am not doing any lately. I want to get a solo GURPS Voodoo-based (but with 4E rules) thing going using Mythic Game Master Emulator, but I am balking at the logistics involved. I have a couple of electronic tools that should help, but I am seriously a Luddite when it comes to roleplaying games. If it isn't on paper, I have a hard time using it.

I am thinking about running a MegaTraveller game using my own setting. But I am also still interested in running a D&D-type game (maybe ACKS, maybe AD&D). I have a bunch of stuff that I've written toward the latter, but it isn't ready for prime time yet. This is something that I should avoid, though. I should just run it, and let the design work be done at the table. (This is me talking myself into it.)

I'm still writing something for the Obscure Games blog fest, or carnival, or whatever it's called. I'm going to write up some of my suggested changes for Fantasy Wargaming, after all. Wait, I have less than a week to go on that? AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

Also, I wasted my 200th post on this?

Friday, May 10, 2013

Ray Harryhausen, 29 June 1920 -- 7 May 2013

I wanted to do something nice for today's Ray Harryhausen Appreciation Day, but I couldn't think of anything. My creative juices just don't seem to be flowing at the moment. Maybe it's the heat.

That said, Ray Harryhausen is a man to whom we all, especially gamers, owe a great debt of gratitude. He will be missed.